Book Review- Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever

I recently read Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr and would like to share some of my thoughts here. I’ve been a follower of the authors’ training program for several years and this is basically an update with some more details. Pierce and Murr established the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) many years ago and that has grown and evolved over the years.

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FIRST began as four free lectures a month to help local runners with their training and running that has expanded to include laboratory assessments, gait assessment, nutritional advice, and much more. It’s not uncommon for there to be a waitlist for FIRST retreats. Laboratory fees range from $45 for body composition measurement to $425 for a combination consisting of VO2 MAX / Lactate Threshold  / Gait measurements. A 3-day nutritional assessment seems like a bargain for $50. The May 18-21 2017 retreat (which was sold out months in advance) was $1500 and included all activities, assessments, etc. except lodging. All of the information can be found on this website. There are also many different coaching options from individual coaching to group clinics and team coaching.

Now to the book. As I said, I was already familiar with the FIRST running philosophy, which is geared more toward runners in their forties and older. The basic idea is to run less but work harder and add cross-training, resistance training, and stretching. If you follow their plan, you will be working out for a cumulative of 7 hours a week. This includes 3 days of running, 3 days of cross-training, and 3 days of strength training (some days include both cross-training and strength training). You stretch for 10 minutes every day except one where you stretch for 15 minutes following the long run. Every day you are doing some form of exercise, with a minimum of 25 minutes on a day you strength train 15 minutes and stretch 10 minutes. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an easy workout plan just because you’re only running 3 days a week.

You may be saying, well this wouldn’t be enough for marathon training, and you would be right. The authors state this is a good base for beginning a marathon training plan. It also could be altered by adding longer runs. However, for my purposes, it works great for training for half marathons. It would also work well for shorter distances but I feel it’s perfect for half marathons and the only alteration I need to do is lengthen the long runs.

One notable thing about this training plan you notice right away is there are no distances listed. You run for time, not distance. There is also the FIRST Exertion Scale (FES), which goes from 1, “very easy and relaxed” to 10, “very, very hard; maximal effort.” Your run workouts are based on the FES for a certain amount of time. For example, one of the long run workouts is to begin running comfortably, progressing from a 1 to 3 on the FES scale for 10 minutes then continue the run at FES of 4 for 80 minutes. If I was a really fast runner, I could run for 11 miles pretty easily with this workout, but I’m not that fast so I alter the run workouts to make sure I’m getting in the miles to prepare me for an upcoming half marathon. I think a big part of preparing for a half marathon is mentally preparing yourself to run for 13.1 miles, so I like to go up to 12 or 13 miles for my longest run before a race. If I’m only running for 90 minutes, there’s no way I’m going to run 12 or 13 miles in that time.

I’m skipping ahead, though. The book begins with a lot of background and introductory information. Things start to even get a bit bleak when they go into all of the statistics on “aging runners.” Believe me when I say they don’t sugar-coat anything in this book. They lay it all out there and have many numbers to back it all up. Like it or not, every single one of us will experience the following: reduced lean muscle mass, reduced bone mineral density, increased body fat, reduced cardiac output, reduced metabolic rate, and hormonal changes. Yay! All of this of course impacts your running and other physical activity performance.

But there is hope as long as you are realistic and don’t expect your race times to always keep improving forever. There are also many things you can do such as stretching more, doing weight training, and cross-training. You can also look at your age-graded performance over time. There are many websites to calculate age-graded race times for all distances.

There is a chapter devoted entirely to the marathon and another chapter titled, “Is long-distance running healthy?” that addresses the numerous benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness and of running specifically. Spoiler alert- runners have lower “all-cause and cardiovascular death rates.” Moving on, there is a chapter full of Q & A that they have been asked over the years. There’s a section that discusses the pros and cons of running alone versus with others.

In the chapter on nutrition, I found an interesting idea that I’m still testing. The author states drinking an 8-ounce can of a meal supplement such as Ensure or Boost with 220 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates before a race. The morning of a half marathon I usually have a nervous stomach so the idea of just drinking my breakfast before a race is appealing to me. I don’t want to have to mix powders or anything else. I already do that with my Nuun tablets, which I always run with. I’ve been experimenting with Boost before my last couple of long runs and so far I think it will work for me.

I also enjoyed and appreciated the chapter called “Don’t forget why you are doing this,” where the authors talk about the joy of running.  I think it’s important to not take running and racing too seriously and just have fun; otherwise, what’s the point?

Now to the real meat of the book:

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This is where they really get into the details of the 7-hour workout week. There are detailed workouts for every day of the week, with numerous options to choose from, so you’re not just doing the same exact workouts week after week. There are images and descriptions for all of the stretches, both dynamic stretches before you run, and stretches for after you run. There are also descriptions and images for all of the strength (resistance) exercises. In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted just to strength training and another chapter just on stretching. To finish the book, there is an Afterword and several Appendices.

What did I think of the book? I thought it was extremely in-depth, descriptive, and helpful. As I said earlier, I was already familiar with the authors and their FIRST training plans. I’ve been a believer in running less but running harder and incorporating strength, resistance, and cross-training for several years now. I know everyone is different but for me, if I run more than 3-4 days a week and/or longer distances, my body starts to break down in the form of injuries or illness. I’m no longer in my 30’s and I was not blessed with a body built for running 30+ miles a week. If I want to continue running well into old-age, I know I need to follow the philosophy proposed in this book. The authors state in the Afterword, “The 7-Hour Workout Week works for us.” Quite simply, the 7-Hour Workout Week also works for me.

You can buy the book on Amazon here.

Planning a Racecation

Racecation, while not in the dictionary (yet), is when you combine a race with a vacation.  Racecations have become fairly common, especially with the longer distance races like the half marathon and marathon.  Since I am running a half marathon in all 50 states and am up to my 38th state, I have planned my fair share of racecations.  Obviously I love racecations but I know many people may be anxious about running a race that’s far from where they live.  If you’re one of those that’s on the fence about it, read on.

Why should you do a racecation?

If you choose your race within a reasonable drive of a scenic area, you can follow up a race with a fun vacation, a sort of celebration or party if you will.  While you can do it in reverse, with the vacation first then the race at the end, I don’t advise that if at all avoidable.  I have had a few racecations this way because of my daughter’s school schedule (she’s never missed a vacation, racecation or otherwise with my husband and me), or a holiday that I didn’t want to be traveling during, or some other logistical reason.  One thing to know about my family’s vacations are they are rarely the kind where we lounge around in hammocks for half the day.  We have active vacations that include hiking, swimming, taking walking tours, etc. Not exactly the kinds of things you want to be doing right before a race, though.

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My racecation in Colorado allowed me to catch up with a long-time friend

It’s not the best idea to follow up a week of hiking with running a half marathon or marathon, but it can be done.  The best way to plan this kind of racecation where the race is at the end of your vacation is to make absolutely sure you stay off your feet as much as possible the day before your race (two days prior is even better).  So if your race is at the end of your vacation, go hiking, swimming, playing with your kids outside but then watch a movie and lounge by the pool the day before your race.

How to Choose Where to Run

Assuming this isn’t your first race (I’m not sure I would recommend a racecation for someone’s first race ever), you hopefully know by now what kind of races you enjoy.  Do you like big races?  Choose one of the Rock n Roll Series races or see my post on one of my favorite big races, Shamrock Marathon, Virginia-24th state.  Although I have not done any of the Disney races, I know they are hugely popular. Prefer small races?  One of my favorite small races was Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state.

Unless you are running a race in all 50 states, I would say just choose a place where you’ve always wanted to go (or go back to) and see if there’s a race at that place.  If there is, do a little more research to see if it’s one that’s doable, which brings me to my next point.

Do a Little Research on the Race

I have some websites I go to for choosing races.  They are halfmarathons.netrunningintheusa.comhalfmarathonsearch.comcoolrunning.com for starters.  If I’m looking for a specific race in a specific area, I would just google it and find information that way.  Also remember that races come and go, so a link could be outdated.  I signed up for a race that was last spring from a website that was outdated, only to find out the race had been canceled after I had already made my travel plans.  In place of the canceled race I ended up running the McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state.  In my case, there was no way to know the website was outdated without contacting someone from the site and getting a response back, which fortunately happened to me.  I think this is rare, however and it’s the only time something like this has happened to me.

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Horsetail Falls in Oregon

Before you hit click to enter a race electronically, do some further research first to avoid disappointment or at least know what you’re getting yourself into.  First see when the race is going to happen.  Is it in Florida/Georgia/Mississippi/Texas/Louisiana in July or August?  You should pass on that since that’s one of the hottest months in the south and you’d likely be miserable running anything longer than a 5k at the crack of dawn.  Minnesota in February?  No thank you.  Personally I’m not a glutton for punishment.  Rhode Island in October?  Now you’re talking.  Perfect weather and peak foliage for the leaves in the New England states.

Check out the day and time of the race.  If it starts at 5:30 am and you can barely drag yourself out of bed to run at 8 am, you might want to think long and hard before signing up for an early-morning race, especially one that early.  Remember, that’s start time, which means you’ll have to be up and at the race way before then.  Also, if it happens to fall on a day when you or your family have plans, that won’t work for a race that’s in another state.

Click on the elevation chart (if there is one).  If you despise running hills and this course is straight up a mountainside and back down, I wouldn’t advise running that.  Or, conversely, if you really enjoy some small to moderate hills to break up a marathon and this course is pancake flat, it might not be the best choice.  Often, there is no elevation chart or it’s misleading more often than not, de-emphasizing the hills along the course.  That’s happened to me more than once where I checked out an elevation chart of a race, only to find it loaded with many more hills than I thought it would or the hills were much steeper than I thought they would be.  All you can do is make the best of it if that happens.

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My half marathon in Knoxville, Tennessee was one massively hilly race but we loved the sidewalk chalk art displays afterwards!

Look at the race course.  While it likely won’t mean much to you since it’s in a place you’re not familiar with, it’s still a good idea to see where you’ll be running.  Sometimes you can gain a little insight like if you’ll be running past ocean views which will help pass the time and keep you preoccupied with the view.

Racecation Packing List

For a racecation, your packing list is a bit more complicated but doesn’t have to be daunting.  Yes, weather is often unpredictable, more so in some parts of the country than others.  My best advice is to pack for what you expect the weather to be like (shorts if it will be warm, pants if it will be cold) and then add in a couple of extra items “just in case.” For instance, if it’s supposed to be warm where you’re headed, pack shorts, short-sleeve shirt or tank top, and running capris or a long-sleeve shirt (your preference), just in case it’s cooler than predicted.

As a minimalist packer who hasn’t checked a bag with an airline in years (Never Check a Bag with an Airline Again), this may seem contradictory, but trust me, it works.  I learned the hard way at Missoula Marathon, Montana-22nd state that the weather can change drastically the day before your race.  Better to have an extra shirt or pair of pants than be miserable when running your race because you didn’t pack enough.

When I was packing for my Missoula racecation, I checked the weather for Missoula, Montana and the forecast called for warmer temperatures so I packed shorts.  However, a cold front came in the day before the race and the weather the morning of the race was supposed to be much colder than predicted.  I had to find a running store and attempt to find running pants during the middle of summer, which of course they did not have.  Instead I had to squeeze into capris that were a size smaller than I normally would have bought and run a half marathon in clothes I hadn’t trained in.  Normally you don’t want to run in anything you haven’t previously trained in but given the circumstances I felt it was a better option than freezing during the race.

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Kayaking in Missoula, Montana

Your packing list should include:

clothing (as mentioned in the previous paragraphs pack an extra item or two just in case but don’t pack more than one of the same item, such as two pair of shorts)- short-sleeve or long-sleeve shirt, shorts, capris, and/or pants, sports bra, socks, jacket and gloves if it will be cold

running belt and bottles (if used for races or at all)

hat (weather-appropriate)

sport sunglasses

running watch with adapter for charging

sports supplements (Gu, Gels, Nuun, etc.); don’t rely on whatever the race has if you currently train with something specific

wear your running shoes on the plane if you’re flying (pack one pair lightweight shoes); do this going to the race.  Doesn’t really matter coming back home.  This is really about worse-case scenario to me.  My shoes are the one thing I really don’t want to be without.

Choosing a Place to Stay

I learned years ago to try to find a place to stay the night before the race (and also after the race unless you’re moving on to somewhere else for your vacation portion) that’s within walking distance of the race start.  This saves you grief in a myriad of ways.  For one, you can sleep in a bit longer instead of having to get up earlier to take a shuttle or drive to the start.  Also, often a nearby hotel will have a code for runners staying there that will give you a discount.  This information should be readily available on the race website.  If it’s not, contact the race director for suggestions of where to stay the night before the race.

If you are going to stick around in the town where the race is after the race, it is nice to be able to go back to your hotel after the race and take a shower and nap rather than having to check out in a hurry to catch your flight back home.  Even if the race is in a location that’s say a two hour drive from where you planned the vacation part of your racecation, you might want to stay in the city of the race for the night before and night of your race, before moving on.

If You’re Flying to Your Racecation

One thing to be aware of when you’re flying back home, I have been stopped twice at security for having my race medal in my carry-on luggage.  If you check luggage, this wouldn’t be an issue, but if you don’t check luggage like me, this can be an issue.  Believe it or not, I was stopped at Boston Logan Airport after the All Women & One Lucky Guy Half Marathon, Massachusetts- 29th state.  I would have thought that of all places, the security staff at this airport would have seen a medal or two, with the Boston Marathon and all of those medals going through after the race.  My bag was stopped and my family (and everyone else in line behind me) had to wait while the security person pulled out my bag, called for a supervisor, who didn’t respond for quite some time, then a supervisor finally came, pulled out my medal and verified that was the object they were looking at on the x-ray screen, and sent me on my way again.

This happened again at my most recent race in San Diego Silver Strand Half Marathon, California-38th state.  I asked the security agent what I was supposed to do with it and he said, “Wear it around your neck proudly!  You earned that medal!”  I’m pretty sure it would have set off the alarms going through the metal detector, but I guess he meant put it in one of those small round containers for wallets and jewelry before I went through the scanner.  Hopefully I’ll remember to do that the next time.

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Does this medal look like a weapon to you?

If you’ve never done a racecation before but have been thinking about it, my advice is to choose a race that’s about 2 or 3 hours from your house but somewhere you would actually like to spend a few days after the race (and the night before the race).  This way you can drive to the race and not have to worry about the extra logistics that come with flying to a race but the drive won’t be too bad.  Work your way up to farther ones from there once you feel more comfortable.  Racecations definitely require more planning than running in local races, but I find them much more interesting and I’ve gotten to where I enjoy the planning that’s involved.

For those of you that have done or do racecations, what are some of your favorites?  For those of you on the fence about doing a racecation, which one(s) seem most interesting to you?

Top 5 Running Memories

Recently I started thinking about my running and racing history.  To date, I’ve ran two 5k’s, a 10k, a 10 miler, a 15k,  40 half marathons and one marathon.  This is all within the last 20 years.   I ran on my elementary school’s track team but after that only ran for fun until I finished graduate school and had settled into my life as an adult.

My first race as an adult was a 5k.  There was certainly nothing particularly memorable about it, even though it was my first race, but I do remember certain details about it.  It was on July 4 and it was in the evening but it was still hot and humid, as one would predict. Probably the biggest thing I got out of that race was the desire to do more.  I began running more and more races with longer distances.

I wanted to run a marathon by the time I turned 30.  I ran the Long Beach Marathon when I was 31 years old so I wasn’t off by much.  Just training for the race was like having a part-time job, with all of the time I spent running.  After I would run for my longest runs of up to 18-20 miles I would be totally wiped out for hours afterward.  The worst of it was I felt like I was always either sick or injured.  My immune system was being compromised and my body just couldn’t take all of the pounding on the roads.  The Long Beach Marathon leads me to my top five most memorable running experiences.

1. The day of the Long Beach Marathon in California was unseasonably hot when I ran it.  It was in the 80’s and people were quite literally dropping out of the race all around me, passing out from the extreme heat.  I must have been severely dehydrated myself because I experienced tunnel vision, where I had no peripheral vision; I could only see straight ahead of me, with only blackness in my periphery.  When that started, I did what any stubborn runner like me would do and walk.  I knew if I stopped moving that would be the end and I would drop out. I did not want my first marathon to be a DNF (did not finish). Somehow I managed to keep it together and crossed the finish line.  The first words I said to my husband were, “I don’t ever want to do that again.”  And I didn’t.  Instead I choose to stick to half marathons.  While the Long Beach Marathon may not be a pleasant memory for me given the race conditions, I still felt a sense of accomplishment just for finishing it and it’s definitely one of my most memorable races.

2. My fastest half marathon was at Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state.  By this point I thought I had probably peaked as far as my finish times but I proved that even someone in their 40’s can still PR!  The course was slightly downhill but not so much that it felt pounding on my quads.  The race began at the top of Spearfish Canyon and finished at the bottom, basically.  I remember running through the canyon thinking, “This is so amazing that I get to run through this!  How many people get to do this?”  Running that race felt like a privilege indeed.  Perhaps my positive attitude effected my time as well.

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The top of Spearfish Canyon

3. Vermont was my first foray into the New England states and I was instantly in love with the area.  Covered Bridges Half Marathon, Vermont-9th state.  This was a hilly race for sure but it was one where the people running around me gave off such positive vibes that it was one of the most fun and memorable races I’ve ran.  I remember many times during the race that people would crack jokes and everyone around would laugh out loud. Vermont is one of the greenest states I’ve ever seen as far as the trees and grass. The course runs through lovely green pastures and fields and is truly beautiful.  Plus, as you might guess from the name of the race, you get to run through or past several covered bridges.

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One of many covered bridges in Vermont

4. The only time I’ve won first place in my age group was at the Roller Coaster Half Marathon, Missouri- 32nd state.  The course wasn’t particularly scenic, but it wasn’t bad.  It was two loops, which I certainly wasn’t crazy about but in hindsight it was kind of good to know exactly what I was in for the second time around.  When I finished, my husband (who is not a runner and is my photographer and support crew along with my daughter) said, “I think we should stick around for the awards ceremony.”  I said, “Really?  OK.” When they gave the award for second place in my age group, I said to my daughter, “I remember passing her.”  My husband replied, “What does that tell you?”  Tears started to well up in my eyes.  As I type this, tears are starting to well up again, honestly.  Then the announcer called my name as the first place female in my age group and it was all I could do not to cry like a baby.  I was shocked.  I was elated.  I felt so incredibly proud and yet humble at the same time, if that makes sense.  This was definitely a highlight of racing for me.

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5. When I signed up my daughter for Girls on the Run (see my post on that here Girls on the Run Interview), a running group that introduces girls to running and healthy lifestyles, culminating in a 5k, she had a love/hate relationship with running.  She would say she’d want to go running with me but when we got out, she’d whine and complain how hard it was until ultimately we ended up walking or just going back home.  I always told her we would go completely at her pace, too, so I definitely wasn’t pushing her.  The frustrating part of it for me was I could see the potential in her as a runner.  She’s a natural.  She’s one of those people that just looks like a gazelle when she runs.  However, she could not see the potential in herself, that is, until she started running with other girls in the Girls on the Run program.  I could see her confidence gradually gaining and by the time of the 5k she had completely changed her attitude.  I remember being so proud of my daughter when we ran the Girls on the Run 5k together and thinking that someday we may even run a half marathon together.  How cool would that be?

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What are your most memorable races?

 

 

Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon, South Carolina-4th state

At this point, I still hadn’t set the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states.  My husband and I got a good deal on a place to stay in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, so we decided to go.  Of course, I checked to see if there were going to be any half marathons in the area when we’d be there, and there was, so I signed up for the Kiawah Island Half Marathon.

I knew someone who had ran this race and she said she set a personal record (PR) on the course, so I was excited about the possibility of that for myself.  I knew it would be pancake flat and the weather would most likely be good since it was in early December. The biggest unknown factor was the wind, since the course is notorious for strong winds.  The winds that day turned out to be extremely brutal, up to 20 mph that morning.  That being said, I still set a PR of 1:58:54, breaking the 2 hour barrier that plagues so many runners who want to finish under that time. When I ran it in 2004, there were an estimated 1200 people running the marathon and 2300 running the half marathon.

Kiawah Island is a small community about 45 minutes from Charleston, South Carolina with huge homes in a private gated community, the Sanctuary Hotel, as well as the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. It is a quiet, relaxing family-friendly place perfect to relax after running a half marathon or marathon.  This area is known for its white sand beaches with palm trees, marshes, and maritime forests.  If you’re running the marathon or half marathon, there are packages available with discounted rates on accommodations.  This is a nature-lovers paradise with fishing and paddling tours, bike rentals, a nature program, walking tours and much more.

From my post-race notes:

“Ran on streets in private neighborhood (with huge beautiful houses) for portion of race. Very flat.  Wind was very strong at times.  Good finish time.  Good food at finish, but was too chilly to stay around long.  Finish time 1:58:54.”

Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon